Can you tell us a little bit more
about yourself? What did you want
to be when you ‘grew up’?
I’m still unsure about the growing up bit,
but I qualified in medicine in England, then emigrated as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’. I worked
in tropical Queensland at a hospital, before moving to Tasmania to avoid the crocodiles.
After working in a remote country practice
in Tasmania, I played truant from medicine
to study art, then, briefly, to teach at the Hobart Art School. Some of my photographs were selected for a solo show in Sydney, opened by Lloyd Rees. The series was published as ‘Valley People’ and widely reviewed on interstate radio interviews, a whole page in ‘The Bulletin’, (and even an article in the ‘Classic and Historic Automobile Club of Australia‘). The book was runner-up to Peter Carey’s ‘Illywacker’ as Melbourne’s ‘The Age’ Book of the Year. I then joined some of my ‘subjects’ (former patients), in a popular episode of the ABC’s ‘A Big Country’
television series. After that came a commission from the Arts Council of Tasmania and Tasmanian Trades Unions for text and photographs of underground mining at Rosebery for ‘Ways of Working’.
I enjoyed a short spell as a very junior commercial pilot at Lake Pedder, but when the Hydro flooded our landing beach and I went back to part-time medical work and enrolled in a Master’s degree (studying History and Photography). My thesis (on 3D vision) was adapted to be read on Robyn William’s ABC Ockham’s Razor series and my graduation show of photographs on the changing perception of war in Australia went to the Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington. Two short pieces, A Wet Tail (a dog story) and Beautiful Migrant (about Monarch butterflies on Flinders Island) featured on the ABC country programme, and essays have been published in the Tasmanian periodical 40ºSouth and the RACT ‘Journeys’ magazine.
In 2015, medical ‘locum’ work continues, and the biography, ‘Sweetbreads out of Season – Pat Collins’ Bistro, Hobart’s Brief Bohemia’ has been published in Tasmania by 40ºSouth. The more scholarly version, ‘Case study in design, culture and social change in Tasmania’, has been published by the Tasmanian Historical Research Association.
Can you describe your
manuscript in 100 words?
‘Sweetbreads out of Season – Pat Collins’ Bistro, Hobart’s Brief Bohemia’ is a biography of an English migrant. It showcases social changes and the revolting youth of the late 1960s, as we rolled joints, discovered mini-skirts and the Pill, refused ties, and marched in the streets. ‘Gay’ culture was there for the adventurous, even in Tasmania. Behind the new ideas loomed the disasters of the Vietnam war.
It was a wild, exciting time.
In Hobart, Pat Collins’ Bistro restaurant was the only licensed restaurant, and a focus for it all, but conservative politicians criticised him for encouraging the young rebels. A trumped-up drug charge led to his shaming. He left the state, but more adventures in the mainland Hospitality business were to follow.
What prompted you to start writing ‘this’ story?
Anyone interested in oral history soon realises it is only transient data; as one’s informants forget (or die) only fragments are going to be saved to become
‘history’. So carpe diem, I thought, start listening and recording!
Years ago a rather drunken group of writers and wanna-be’s started mourning the ‘good old days’ with the inevitable refrain of ‘somebody ought to write about…’ Various dead celebrities were mentioned – Ma Dwyer of the ‘Blue House’, Lloyd Jones (legendary pilot), and Pat Collins of The Bistro. I knew Pat Collins and I had vague thoughts that I could do write about him. Then, several years later, someone voiced a false ideas of my late friend, so I decided to try to correct the record.
What genre would you say your writing would fit into?
Is this the genre you usually write in?
Biography and social history. But I’ve also written and illustrated articles on natural history, travel and short stories, as well as children’s stories.
ABOUT THE WRITING PROCESS…
How long have you been writing?
And how long have you been writing this particular MS?
I began at school – writing a diary, then editing the school magazine. After that it was the university newspaper. Then demands of family, long working hours and the excitement of emigration to Australia diverted energies. Yes, I know dear Margaret Scott carried on regardless of such minor distractions, and I’m properly ashamed!
I finally started researching for ‘Sweetbreads‘ back in 2005.
What is your writing process; do you plan what you write?
The idea develops in outline, then gradually fills in with research and changes
with new interpretations formed from chance contacts and sources from far and wide. I view the manuscript like a watercolour painting: first I create light outlines, then fill them with colour, before injecting the image with details. And with any luck, the end result may resemble the subject! I like to read reported speech out loud and ask myself, would he really have used those words?
My writing has lived through typewriter with scissors cut and sticky paste, through primitive computer (recording on a cassette tape!), to a succession of lovely Macs. And this influences how you write.
How did your manuscript develop, both in your
initial thinking about it and in the revision process?
I had very little material to start with. I began with a history of the scene in Hobart during the sixties; social changes, street protests and the beginnings of political instability, using my memories of The Bistro as a focus. As I interviewed contemporaries and read through newspapers, material about my protagonist multiplied. It became necessary to narrow the field and I was able to focus on Collins’ story, as a complex mixture of non-violent, Fabian socialism and contempt for the philistines he imagined living out in the ‘suburbs’. He was a pacifist who never tired of telling stories of life in the Indian Army. He loved the arts, especially the culinary kinds, and cast an avuncular eye on young people experimenting with various sorts of sexual encounters. In our small community, conservative politicians loathed him. It did not take long for the ghost of Collins to crowd out the rest of
my history and I found myself stuck with him as a bedfellow until I could exorcise the manuscript to an editor!
What happened in writing that you didn’t expect would happen?
Along the way I renewed old friendships, saw friends reunited after losing contact for years, and even made an enemy…or two!!
What are the reasons you decided to self-publish?
Impatience, I suppose. After canvassing a heap of larger publishers, I decided to
rely on a local publishing house, keep control of content and design, and pay to obtain a worthwhile product.
What did you find easy, difficult, surprising about the self-publishing process?
My first two books were published by a small Sydney outfit, Kangaroo Press. I now feel that they should’ve limited themselves to self-publishing. They were wonderful to work with – and the first book was a big success – but they had also backed a row of books that had not been successful. I failed to realise this and that my second book with them, ‘Ways of Working’, was coming out while they were going broke. When my current manuscript was ready I sought local publishers (who also produce a quality illustrated magazine), 40ºSouth. The firm had recently been taken over and, whether ‘new broom’ phenomenon or not, I couldn’t have asked for better result than I found with them. Lucinda Sharp, the manager, is a bundle of energy and designer, Kent Whitmore, was a pleasure to work with; turning words and photos into a really attractive book.
What do you hope people will take away from reading your work?
My purpose in writing ‘Sweetbreads’ was to put the record straight and give some honour to a misjudged character who had been a friend. Today the subject of my story, Pat Collins, is remembered only through fanciful stories about obsessions
and perversions. In fact, he was a generous host, an innovator and a lateral thinker. He was partly instrumental in the modernisation of Tasmania’s tourist industry and he encouraged a generation of young professionals to take pleasure from good food, good wine and intelligent argument.
Where can we buy your book?
And is there anywhere else we can find out more about you?
‘From all good bookshops’ as they say. Outside Tasmania, that will probably mean that if you order it, they’ll get it in for you. Or you can contact the distributors: Dennis Jones & Associates or Blackgum Distribution Services, and, with faith,
I imagine both warehouses busily unloading stock to the bookshops! I also have
a website you can visit for more information about events etc.
Which authors do you most admire, and why?
I enjoy a good story, whether historical, biographical or fictional. But it needs to be well told, from careful research or personal knowledge of the subject. Xavier Herbert is best loved, and I have read all the Patrick O’Brien sea stories with much pleasure (noticing no more than two little anachronisms!). What a contrast to Bryce Courtenay’s money-spinning ‘The Potato Factory’, written knowing the difference between etching and engraving, and importing both European wasps and ’lobsters’ into early Tasmania! And Esther Freud, who could write an engaging story about Walberswick a century ago, while living there, without talking to the old blokes in the pub about the radical changes, within living memory, in accents, vocabulary
and common wildlife. All very irritating!
My general reading is continuous, and almost entirely from actual, physical
paper books. Usually bought after the pleasure of browsing a dedicated
bookshop, staffed by enthusiasts.
Tell us what’s next for you?
Next I’ll be tidying up some short stories and (if I feel strong enough), maybe a
bio of Lindsay Lloyd Jones OBE, as a living example for people living with brain damage. (All the above of course, subject to annoying interruptions to earn a living.)